Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed. There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards. At least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The number of Democratic women likely challenging incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives is up nearly 350% from 41 women in 2016. Roughly 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, about running for office from 2015 to 2016; since President Trump’s election, more than 26,000 women have reached out about launching a campaign. The group had to knock down a wall in its Washington office to make room for more staff.
It’s not just candidates. Experienced female political operatives are striking out on their own, creating new organizations independent from the party apparatus to raise money, marshal volunteers and assist candidates with everything from fundraising to figuring out how to balance child care with campaigns.
It’s too early to tell how the movement will change Washington. But outside the Beltway, a transformation has already begun. In dozens of interviews with TIME, progressive women described undergoing a metamorphosis. In 2016, they were ordinary voters. In 2017, they became activists, spurred by the bitter defeat of the first major female presidential candidate at the hands of a self-described pussy grabber. Now, in 2018, these doctors and mothers and teachers and executives are jumping into the arena and bringing new energy to a Democratic Party sorely in need of fresh faces. About four times as many Democratic women are running for House seats as Republican women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics; in the Senate, the ratio is 2 to 1.
But not all women vote Democratic–not by a long shot. White women helped lift Trump to the presidency, voting for him 53% to 43%, according to exit polls. Among white women without a college education, the gulf was even larger: 62% to 34%. November’s midterm elections will be a crucial first test of whether the new crop of female candidates and the well-oiled advocacy groups behind them can overcome that deficit. In the balance: control of the House and Senate, which is likely to come down to a few races where female voters could prove decisive. “Women candidates help energize women voters,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “And in close races, you win with women voters.”